What Happens If You Are Far-Sighted in Thailand?

The first sign of middle age has hit home with my wife: she can no longer read small print up close and has to resort to the “reach,” where she extends her arm as far as she can to read books.

That same fate probably soon awaits me as well, which makes me glad I am not Thai. I’ve never really noticed what Thai writing looks like in print, but the Thai-language version of Freakonomics just hit the shelves, and the publisher just sent me a complimentary copy. Flipping open the book, I could not believe how intricate and tiny all the lettering is. I couldn’t find a way to replicate a passage from the book in Thai, but I think this blog post in Thai about Freakonomics will start to make my point.

Is there any other written language in the world that punishes someone who has trouble seeing up close that’s worse than Thai?

Khun T


Lol, grand dady complain, ah. Don't you know there's something call Magnifier.

I have not yet read Freakonomics in Thai yet. So not quite sure what the typeface and font size that the printed use. Normally, book in Thailand will use font size about 12-14 points. Which roughly about same size as English at 10-12 points. But in Thai, we have maximum of 4 level of alphabet in one line, where as, in English there is only one. For example, your book name in Thai; Freakonomics = เศรษฐพิลึก This Thai name has 3 levels in one line.

Another thing is in Thai we probably has less white space than in English, because we write the whole sentense in one continuous line. No space between each word.

Well, I think I will check out you Thai book and see how it is.

Khun T

PS. Your book is awesome, also your posts here.



And Thai, believe it or not, is a simplified (simplified?!) version of the Khmer script used in Cambodia.


It's probably not as bad as it looks - when you read English, you don't look at each line in detail, or even each letter or each word. You look at the whole phrase or sentence at once.

I'm sure that there's lots of context that helps them decipher these characters when they're blurred.


If you can't read Thai, then yes, there might not be anything worse (considering you can read in every other language).


Yea the biggest problem is the arbitrary scripts used in marketing in Thailand. For example the raw ruea (boat) character would look like an S and the P sound shows up as the letter W. Sort of like having to relearn the alphabet all over again. I mean I have enough trouble recognizing the old royal or Sanskrit characters used in names and certain locations. Bah the saddest thing is that I'm a Thai national relearning my own language.

Dilip Andrade

Hindi might be as bad. But thankfully the characters in each word are joined so you can very easily determine where a word starts and stops.

Having said that, I keep being reassured by people who grew up reading Hindi that it isn't as bad as I make it out to be.


Chinese - traditional or simplified - is very intricate and has the extra difference of not having an alphabet so you need to recognize the characters which are the words. It's much easier, of course, if you grew up reading Mandarin.

Pranav Backliwal

Arabic's pretty intricate, here's this comment translated:

العربية معقدة جدا ، وهنا ترجمة هذا التعليق

And you'd have to read this from right to left.


jonathan is right. As a non-native reader of Chinese, while I can usually manage with signage and printed books/newspapers in general, I find Chinese websites near impossible to read without zooming in or pasting the text into a word processor and doubling the font size. A lot of complicated characters have to be squeezed into 12pt font, which makes their intricacies and subtleties very difficult to see.

I should add that I am a 19-year-old college student, and so this isn't an issue with myopia (although I am shortsighted, I do wear glasses). Chinese is just really hard because there is no alphabet.


I think the print size of text are usually scaled appropriately according to the the language.

You might think that it is complicated because you are not native. But the Thai would be familiar with the text enough that they just need to scan the shape of the text to read the book. Like how an English reader would not have problems with"O", "Q" or "C".

As per Chinese, I'm native. The translation are usually printed 20%-30% larger than in English and the books would still have less pages. Each characters carry more information than each English alphabets.


Spaghetti languages! Love 'em.

Daniel Reeves

English has some subtleties, too. In some fonts, lowercase a, d, and q are only slightly different. Lowercase b and p are kind of the same. r and n put together look a lot like m. j is a longer i.

The letters in English are structured with the same motifs: usually a central circle as the basis of the letter, and straight lines. Thai has its own motifs, too. But when you consider that even if a thai reader can't distinguish between a few small marks, remember that native speakers read not letter by letter but shape by shape. Letters just form the basis of these shapes, and motifs form the basis of these letters!


Hindi (and related languages, such as Sanskrit, Bengali, etc.) are actually not hard at all for native readers. Most of the letters are different enough that you can see the difference clearly (and a few are similar, but, as adora pointed out, as easy to distinguish as Q is from C and O.)

Arabic can be difficult because there are oftentimes no vowel marks when reading certain texts. Also, around the 600s, the orthography had not even developed to the point where many consonants could be distinguished easily. (Emphasis on "easily").

Pick up an Arabic version of the Qur'an and you'll see the difficulty. Then again, maybe a native Arabic reader will disagree.


I'm not sure about any other language but Thai is difficult to read when it's small.

Some of the Thais I know say they don't have a problem but when I pass over something I'm having a difficulty with, they do too!


The Thai script makes Freakonomics freakier.

I'm not sure what the Chines script looks like in a non-native's eyes. But "Freakonomics" is translated to something that looks like 魔鬼经济学(simplified) or 魔鬼經濟學(traditional). Do you need to enlarge the font size?


I guess Hindi is better than this ,,,,,,,,,,,though it is suggested by some of the people.

Arabic & Tamil (South Indian language ) are clear contender with Thai


I always think that how much time it takes to wirte those complex figure in chinese .......we have normally an exam of 2 hours ...........whats the time line in china for exams on an average ...........


I would be interested to see if there is any correlation between native reading language and eyesight degradation due to age.

Maybe people who have to read a language like Thai keep their eyesight for longer.

Or maybe populations that tend to keep their eyesight for longer end up coming up with languages like Thai.

Is there a cause and effect relationship here?


I didn't know that about the Thai fonts, but I think it is interesting that I have had several Thai students (at a small college) and they tend to have very small, neat printing, that I almost need a magnifying glass to see.


Wouldn't this make Latin character languages ultimately more efficient than other languages. Say what you like about expressiveness, etc., but 26 easy to identify letters that scale well and are easy to write seem to be superior to other many other writing forms. Chinese, for instance, is more succinct, but there are some characters with more than 20 strokes -- how practical is that?